By Hamish Stening
Last night I saw Throwing Shade Theatre Company and theatrongroup’s The Caretaker at Riverside Theatres. Their version of the 1960 Pinter classic was phenomenal and the performances of the three actors were sublime. I thoroughly recommend catching this show during its extremely limited season.
Marketing for the show has featured the tagline “the wickedly funny psychological play” and while the absurdist play is full of humorous moments, perhaps its greatest strength is that it isn’t really a comedy.
The humour of the show comes mostly from some of the characters more outlandish comments and interactions, but also partly from the familiarity of their behaviours. Mac Davies (Nicholas Papademitriou), the homeless man taken in by the sympathetic Aston (Yalin Ozucelik), for example, constantly sneers and finds the most ridiculous reasons for why Aston’s various charitable actions and hand-outs are not good enough. Davies is delusional in expecting not only charity, but also in expecting the finest quality and fit to his specific needs (or worse, taste). More so, he is delusional in his own self-worth and assessment of his own intelligence and talent. It is funny seeing such a ridiculous choosing beggar and listening to his absurd logic, but what makes this production truly incredible is its very serious edge.
We are used to seeing portrayals of homeless men rejecting charity because of pride, but it is shocking to see one reject hand-outs because they think that they deserve better. We expect homelessness to be humbling, and we are used to seeing those affected by hardship act more nobly and virtuously than others, but this is not what always happens in the real world.
In this play, we are faced with a homeless man whom we struggle to pity or feel compassion for. If anyone deserves such an awful fate it is him, right? Especially for those who feel they are generally moral and compassionate, this is an uncomfortable state to be in.
It is in this state that we think and we learn, and really that is the highest compliment I can give this production. It achieves everything that good, ambitious theatre strives for. Of course there is good need for theatre that simply entertains, but this is the kind of theatre that facilitates learning and discovery.
The discovery watching this show is certainly not restricted to the themes of homelessness and charity however. Davies and Alex Bryant-Smith’s Mick are bulls**t artists who believe their own hype, much to the downfall of the one man we would call sane (although ironically it is revealed that Aston suffers from serious psychopathology). This is incredibly pertinent in a President Trump, climate-change-denial, dogmatism-encouraging world, and it raises all kinds of questions regarding living virtuously without becoming powerless.
It can be hard to actually learn from theatre some times. Often tiredness gets in the way, but usually it is an actor’s performance, a poor script, or some production element that distracts or hinders. This is certainly not the case for this show. Everything from the lighting and sound design to the efficient set and brilliant costuming are top notch, and the actors’ performances are sublime. Their characters are full of detail and quirks but are very consistent and never unrealistic or implausible; they are engaging and entertaining without ever being distracting.
This play has an extremely limited run which is a shame because it is one of (if not) the best show(s) I have seen this year. It is a lesson in acting and theatre-making and I hope that it returns soon so that more people can benefit from seeing it.
Photo Credit: Sanja Vukelja
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.